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|Written by Will Parker|
|Wednesday, 13 January 2010 00:00|
As I get older, I keep surprising myself: I apparently really enjoy so many of the foods I absolutely despised as a child. Broccoli, coffee, beets, smoked salmon, herring, marmalade, sour cream, yogurt -- the list honestly goes on and on. While I never considered myself a picky child, I've noticed of late that I probably wasn't the easiest kid to feed. Having recognized my former shortcomings, I've recently taken to eating things I always assumed I hated. I still haven't quite got up the courage to eat squash, but maybe one day I'll get there.
A few months ago I tried lobster. I remember having lobster once as a young child out on the East Coast on one of those summer trips with the family. I didn't love it. To be honest, I didn't like it at all. I was aware that it was insanely expensive by the pained look on my mother's face when we ordered. I was also less than impressed by the amount of work it took to get a bite of any actual lobster -- too much effort, not enough pay off. I distinctly remember being totally disgusted by the greenish brown guts inside that made me think of my own intestines. That's probably why it took me another decade (or two) to muster up the nerve to give it another shot. Well, like so many other culinary pleasures that I've only discovered in adulthood, lobster did not disappoint. My goodness -- the smooth silky texture, the faint sea taste, the general heartiness of it -- lobster is amazing! And hold on: you get to dip it in garlic butter? Lobster, where have you been my entire life?!
I recognize I'm definitely behind the curve here, but lobster is one fantastic tasting sea creature. Whether it's steamed fresh or prepared in a salad, sandwich or risotto, it lends intense flavours to a dish that I find cannot be replicated with any other ingredient. A few months ago I had a South African grilled lobster tail and truly believed I had died and gone to culinary heaven. It was so amazing that I had to ask the chef how it was prepared. She was nice enough to invite me into her kitchen and show me how to prepare the sauce by sautéing some garlic on low heat with a few shallots and white wine. She then told me to get the freshest live lobster possible, drive a sharp knife through the lobster's head at the midpoint between its eyestalks, tear off its tail . . . That's about all I heard. The thought of holding a live lobster in my hand while I more or less perform a rudimentary frontal lobotomy on its little lobster head made me feel uneasy. I vowed to look into this further.
It turns out there is a lot of uncertainty in both the scientific and the culinary worlds as to whether there is a humane way to kill a lobster. Forgetting for a moment the various moral, religious, political arguments against eating lobster at all, I had to wonder, is there a way to do it that could keep my conscience clean? It seems that the jury is out on that question. Studies have indicated that lobsters lack the basic pain receptors and neurology in their nervous system necessary to sense pain in the first place. Basically the idea is no brain, no pain. Other researchers have countered that when subjected to painful stimuli, lobsters will exhibit distress behaviours such as movement away from the painful stimulus and excessive self-grooming (think of licking a wound).
If we assume for a moment that lobsters indeed do feel pain, the question remains as to what is the best way to kill them? Everything from the boiling pot of water to a special lobster electric shock gadget has its pros and cons. Consensus seems to suggest that the most humane way to kill a lobster is to freeze it for about ten minutes to slow its metabolic and nervous rate. Then, using a sharp knife, cut down its underside to sever the nerves running along its body length. This method takes into account the fact that a lobster is a cold-blooded crustacean and gives due consideration to its actual physiology.
Still, there's no denying that even the most humane way of killing a lobster is not without moral implications. Each individual is left to make their own personal choice as to whether or not they want to go down that oh-so-tempting road to a delicious lobster dinner. For those of you who choose no, I offer you the following true story from a friend:
My grandma lives in Vancouver and belongs to a Buddhist Church. One day, she and her church friends were discussing the types of things most grandmothers like to talk about -- grandchildren, coupons, applesauce, Murder, She Wrote, and so on. Gradually, the topic of conversation turned to the lobster tank at a local Chinese restaurant the ladies often frequented. The discussion became heated when one grandmother pointed out killing those live lobsters for dinner was not the most Buddha-like behaviour. The grandmothers agreed. My grandma took it to the next level and suggested they go buy the lobsters themselves and set them free. Excited by the bold brazenness of it all, the grandmothers immediately made their way to the Chinese restaurant and promptly ordered all of the remaining lobsters in the tank. The owner had to provide them with plastic garbage bag to carry the lobsters since their plans had overlooked how they would get the lobsters from the tank to their long-awaited freedom. Back in another grandma's car, with the lobsters stowed safely in the trunk, the grandmas drove straight to the nearest beach. My grandma helped another grandma dump the lobster-filled bag into the ocean. At last, the lobsters were liberated, and free in the Pacific! The ladies felt great about what they had done, and proudly shared their story with me when they returned. I felt it was only polite not to mention that the grandmothers had failed to remove the elastic bands holding their claws together. Similarly, I didn't tell them that clawed lobsters don't live in the Pacific Ocean. At least their hearts were in the right place!